Colorado is home to the largest elk population in the world with estimates to be around 280,000 elk. Colorado’s hunting industry brings in about $1 billion annually making it the second-largest tourism industry in the state. With the American elk populations dwindled to less than 100,000 by the early 1890s, this was caused by unregulated hunting, grazing competition with domesticated livestock, and urbanization that was pushing westward, destroying their habitat. Throughout the 20th Century there was an effort to bring these number back up through wildlife management; regulations, national parks and other habitats that were put into conservation. By 1984, there were an estimated 715,000 elk and by 2009 the number grew to 1,031,000 in North America.
Each year it is estimated to be that 43,490 elk harvested in Colorado and 215,326 hunters for this species, so that’s a harvest rate of 20%. As you can see from these number that elk are high sought after and the elk will repetition their herd from the young that will be born in the spring. Some families rely solely on the harvest of an elk to feed their families throughout the coming year.
Colorado’s first most abundant big game species is mule deer while the second is elk. In 2012 Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) population estimate of 408,000 mule deer statewide is 22 percent to 29 percent below the goal of 525,000 to 575,000 animals. The main contribution to this decline is said to be from an increase in predation, mainly mountain lions, but also from humans, from road kill; In 20
14, there were approximately
4,000 recorded crashes involving wildlife – the second highest total in the past decade.
As a bow hunter here in Colorado hunting for deer specifically mule deer and the rocky mountain elk. I started bow hunting 2 years ago now and have yet to harvest an animal but I have the pleasure to spend many days and nights on public land in the homes of these amazing animals. Having put over 100 miles of boots on the ground searching for these animals it has put my meat consumption into perspective, and have realized that if I can not harvest my own meat then my meat consumption of grocery meat should decrease. I bow hunt to fill my freezers full of meat, not just my freezer but family and friends. On an average elk, the amount of meat that is harvest is around 250 lbs, which is a LOT of meat for my girlfriend and myself.
Can hunting in Colorado be considered sustainable? I would argue that it can not be, for without management our population would be wiped out. I do think that it is a better alternative to supermarket meat for the mass of the population has no idea how it feels to take an animal’s life and then eat it, in our day of age some might say that meat comes from the supermarket and not a farm. This disconnection with our meat is what drove me to take on the challenge of harvesting my our meat with a bow on our public lands.
I would encourage all the meat eaters out there that have not witnessed what the process is like to see an animal be harvested and then eat it, to think very hard about your meat consumption.